It might seem a little ironic to write about earning money and free stuff by giving away music directly after a post about the dangers of free. But, in our defense, the services on this list are all built around the purchase of music, not the free distribution of it (well, not really, though some do give away music for free). The difference between the web sites listed in the post and online music mega-stores like iTunes or AmazonMP3 is that sharing and purchasing music on these sites might result in your being rewarded. And sometimes that reward comes in the form of cold, hard cash.
Update: This list was initially 5 services, but I neglected the recently launched Popcuts.
How it works: Bandstocks, which is only operational in the United Kingdom, is a crowdsourced music funding vehicle. Musical acts audition on the site by uploading a track and fans vote with their wallets on who to “invest” in. Users invest a minimum of £10, and when enough funds have been raised, the band uses the money to record a studio album (Bandstocks is granted limited recording rights, but no publishing, touring or merchandising rights).
What you get: Investors get credit in the liner notes, a free downloadable copy of the album, access to exclusive signed editions, first access to special gigs, and a percentage of all net sales of the album. (Bands get 50% and rights to the album revert back to them after 5 years.)
How it works: “Believers” invest $10 (or more) into fledgling musical acts, and when the amount of invested cash hits $50,000, the band gets studio time to record an album. The album is then put online for free and sold. 25 artists have hit that $50k threshold so far.
What you get: Believers make money from advertising on the site and sales of the recorded tracks, and they have the right to open a shop on the site to sell merchandise related to the acts they’ve invested in.
How it works: Like Bandstocks and SellABand, Strayform allows artists to raise money from fans to get their idea created. Unlike Bandstocks and SellABand, the Strayform system supports any kind of artist, not just music. It is being used by painters, writers, filmmakers, game creators, web app developers, etc.
What you get: While you won’t make any cash on Strayform, you will get complete access to whatever you fund — and we mean complete access. One of the stipulations of artists using the Strayform system to raise money is that their work must be released using a Creative Commons license on the back end, allowing funders (and others) the ability to remix and share the completed work. Not a bad reward for throwing a few bucks at something cool.
Name: Amie Street
How it works: Amie Street is one of the most innovative music distribution models on the net. Founded by three Brown University students in 2006, the site allows (mostly) independent musicians to sell their music and lets the crowd set the price based on popularity. Music starts out free, and as people download it, the price slowly increases to a maximum of 98¢.
What you get: Every time you buy a track on Amie Street you get a REC — a sort of recommendation currency. Use your RECs wisely and you can earn free music. If you recommend a song at 11¢ and it subsequently rises to 51¢, you can cash out your REC for 40¢ that you can use to purchase new music.
How it works: Another college music startup (this time by three University of Florida students), Grooveshark is a P2P network that rewards users for sharing music. The site operates like a P2P network crossed with a web radio station crossed with a music download store: users upload and share tracks, other users can stream them for free, or pay to download them.
What you get: Anytime a song is purchased via their system, the person who uploaded the track gets a cut (the company also makes an effort to compensate the label or artist as well). If multiple users have uploaded the same track, Grooveshark uses an algorithm to reward the most active user (the user that is interacting most on the system by doing things like making friends, tagging and rating songs, commenting, purchasing music, and creating playlists). They have some nifty free wallpapers, as well.
How it works: Recently launched Y Combinator project Popcuts sells DRM-free songs for 99¢. Whenever you buy a track, you earn the right to earn a share when and if it becomes popular.
What you get: Popcuts pays users a share of the purchase price any time someone else buys a track they’ve already purchased. Trendsetters are rewarded with a higher cut — if you purchase a song before it gets popular, you stand to make more money if it does (become popular).